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Eating & drinking in the workplace.

A wise industrial hygienist once told me a true story about a mysterious exposure in a workplace on base. It all started in September 1992, when OSHA published the Cadmium Standard. The new standard required that workers with potential cadmium exposure, no matter how slight the potential, be tested to determine the cadmium levels in their bodies. A number of different shops were tested and it was expected that abrasive blast shops would be the most likely to have workers with elevated levels of cadmium, due to exposure to high airborne concentrations of cadmium. The testing revealed that the abrasive blast workers had no elevated cadmium levels, indicating their exposures were adequately controlled through engineering controls, administrative controls and the personal protective equipment required for the tasks. The workers that showed the highest levels of cadmium worked in a shop where there was no inhalation hazard to cadmium. Upon further investigation, it was determined the primary exposure route in this shop was through ingestion. The workers were performing cadmium plating operations and other workplace tasks. In-between tasks they would often take a drink of soda or a bite of their candy bar, without washing their hands, and continue on with the next task at hand. Little did they know they were ingesting cadmium (and who knows what else) with every sip and every bite.


The example above shows the need to do something to prevent ingestion of hazardous materials. 29 CFR 1910.141 paragraph (g) (Sanitation) addresses the consumption of food and beverages in the workplace. It states "No employee shall be allowed to consume food or beverages in a toilet room or in any area exposed to a toxic material," as well as "no food or beverages shall be stored in toiler rooms or in an area exposed to toxic material." AFOSH Std 91-68. Chemical Safety, mandates that food products and smoking materials be isolated from work areas where toxic materials are stored or used. AFOSH Std 91-501. Air Force Consolidated Occupational Safety Standard, which enforces the OSHA standard, states that "No food or drink will be brought into or consumed in areas exposed to toxic materials, chemicals, or industrial shop contaminants. After exposure to any contaminant, shop personnel will wash their hands before eating or smoking."

The number one fundamental step in preventing ingestion of chemicals is personal hygiene. Regardless of whether the activities you perform require hand protection or not, you should always wash your hands after using chemicals, especially before you eat, drink or smoke.

Workplace supervisors are responsible for enforcing these standards and making sure adequate facilities are available for workers to comply with the standards. Your employees will thank you, and so will their families.

The above information is courtesy of the OO-ALC Center Safety Office Newsletter

Are You Overexposing Yourself?

The previous article used the inadvertent ingestion of Cadmium to illustrate the actions that you can take to protect yourself (personal hygiene and using Personal Protective Equipment), but it didn't provide any information about Cadmium itself. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to serve the public by using the best science, taking responsive public health actions, and providing trusted health information to prevent harmful exposures and disease related to toxic substances.


The ATSDR website provides fact sheets to answer the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about exposure to hazardous substances and the effects of exposure on human health at: The ATSDR "ToxFAQs[TM]" fact sheet for cadmium states that "this information is important because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present."

While exposure to cadmium happens mostly in the workplace where Cadmium products are made, the general population is exposed from breathing cigarette smoke or eating cadmium contaminated foods. Cadmium damages the lungs, can cause kidney disease, and may irritate the digestive tract. It's a natural element in the earth's crust, and it's usually found as a mineral combined with other elements such as oxygen (cadmium oxide), chlorine (cadmium chloride), or sulfur (cadmium sulfate, cadmium sulfide). All soils and rocks, including coal and mineral fertilizers, contain some cadmium. Most cadmium used in the United States is extracted during the production of other metals like zinc, lead, and copper. Cadmium does not corrode easily and has many uses, including batteries, pigments, metal coatings, and plastics.

Cadmium enters the environment from mining, industry, and burning coal and household wastes. Once introduced into the environment, cadmium particles in air can travel long distances before falling to the ground or water. It can also enter water and soil from waste disposal and spills or leaks at hazardous waste sites, where it binds strongly to soil particles. Cadmium doesn't break down in the environment. Therefore, it can easily be taken up by fish, plants, and animals; which are then consumed by humans, and once it enters your body, it stays in the body a very long time and it can build up from many years of exposure to low levels.

In and out of the workplace, cadmium exposure can come about by: breathing contaminated workplace air (battery manufacturing, metal soldering or welding), or eating foods containing it; low levels in all foods (highest in shellfish, liver, and kidney meats). Breathing cadmium in cigarette smoke can double your average daily intake, while drinking contaminated water, or breathing contaminated air near the burning of fossil fuels or municipal waste can add to your exposure levels.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that cadmium and cadmium compounds may reasonably be anticipated to be carcinogens, and it can affect your health in several different ways. Breathing high levels of cadmium severely damages the lungs and can cause death. Eating food or drinking water with very high levels severely irritates the stomach, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. Long-term exposure to lower levels of cadmium in air, food, or water leads to a buildup of cadmium in the kidneys and possible kidney disease. Other long-term effects are lung damage and fragile bones. The health effects in children are expected to be similar to those in adults (kidney, lung, and intestinal damage). It is unknown at this time if cadmium causes birth defects in people as it does not readily go from a pregnant woman's body into the developing child, but some portion can cross the placenta, and it can also be found in breast milk.

Animal studies indicate that more cadmium is absorbed into the body if the diet is low in calcium, protein, or iron, or is high in fat. A few studies show that younger animals absorb more cadmium and are more likely to lose bone and bone strength than adults. The babies of animals exposed to high levels of cadmium during pregnancy had changes in behavior and learning ability, and Cadmium may also affect birth weight and the skeleton in developing animals.

How can families reduce the risk of exposure to cadmium? A balanced diet can reduce the amount of cadmium taken into the body from food and drink, and is your first line of defense. In the home, store substances that contain cadmium safely, and keep nickel-cadmium batteries out of reach of young children. If you work with cadmium, use all safety precautions to avoid carrying cadmium-containing dust home from work on your clothing, skin, hair, or tools.

For more information concerning workplace conditions, contact your unit or wing ground safety office. For issues around your private residence or community, ATSDR can tell you where to find occupational and environmental health clinics. Their specialists can recognize, evaluate, and treat illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances. You can also contact your community or state health or environmental quality department if you have any more questions or concerns.

Editor's note: The information for this article was obtained from the ATSDR "ToxFAQs[TM]" fact sheet for cadmium at

by TSgt Scott Moran, Hill AFB, Utah
COPYRIGHT 2005 U.S. Department of the Air Force
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Author:Moran, Scott
Publication:Combat Edge
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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